Monday, April 21, 2008 | There are those who say that teenagers don’t care about what’s happening in our community and our world. Even if we did care, according to the stereotype, we couldn’t actually make a difference. On March 29, we proved them wrong.
When students at Westview, my high school, learned of the extent of the budget cuts in our district, we were outraged. Poway Unified alone may be forced to cut $15.5 million. At Westview, that could potentially mean 41 teachers will lose their jobs, more than 2,000 current students will lose valuable extracurricular programs and counseling services and an immeasurable number of future Westview Wolverines will lose a chance to develop their potential.
As students, and as American citizens with a basic right to a comprehensive education, we decided to fight. A small group of seniors, myself included, founded an organization called “12K for K-12” and on March 29, staged a rally and 12-kilometer march of roughly 600 students to protest the cuts. That was just the beginning.
The fact is, this battle belongs not to the teachers or parents of California, but to the students. This is about our education, our potential, our future. The stand we take today is twofold;: not only are we fighting against the budget cuts, but we are proving to Sacramento and the nation that we, as teenagers, do care. The legislators see us as numbers and abstracts, data thrown around in meetings that can’t even begin to describe the actuality of these cuts, the actuality that we — here at Westview and in PUSD — are finally starting to realize, the actuality that our representatives in Sacramento can’t see.
We must make them realize that their decisions impact real people who, despite their age, are still citizens with rights that cannot be violated and voices that cannot be dismissed.
When numerous budget analysts and legislators have tried and failed to come up with a magic solution to the budget crisis, it would be foolish of me to think I can produce a realistic answer — or to even believe that one exists. But I can say this: we, as Californians, must prioritize. As a teacher of mine said, pupils have to be worth more than prisons and potholes. In our culture, we are quick to call for reform, but rarely willing to make the sacrifices necessary. That is no longer an option.
When you take a step back and look at the issue, we students aren’t asking for much. We are fighting for something that no person in the United States should have to fight for: the basic right to an education. A basic education is more than reading, writing and arithmetic. It’s more than 45 students jammed in a classroom. It’s more than 46th out of 50 in the nation. Or, if the cuts go through, it’s more than 49th out of 50.
Without the teachers who inspired me year after year, I would never have had the drive to continue writing. Without the opportunities of the theatre and journalism programs, I would never have been able to apply my passions in a practical sense. Without the encouragement and discipline of Westview staff, I would never have been able to succeed. And, more importantly, without the knowledge that I’d be given second chances, I would never have been able to fail in a safe environment.
I am not fighting this battle for me or for my friends, for the benefit of my school, my district or my community. I don’t say this for the here and the now. I am speaking to you for those who can’t yet speak for themselves, for those who will lose their voices to the greedy claws of budget cuts, to those future students of California and for their right to the same quality education I had.
California’s education system already spends less per student than the national average. When it comes to funding, our report card is a solid D+, according to Education Week Magazine. The students and teachers of California did not get us into this budget crisis. It is simply bad policy use those without a voice (or vote) as scapegoats. By cutting from education, we are negatively affecting every California resident, every state program and every department.
We must not abandon ship and resign ourselves to this devastating solution. We cannot give up until we find another solution.
Allison Finn is a senior at Westview High School and editor in chief of the school’s newspaper The Nexus. Send your perspective to share with our readers.